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Welcome to the The Cap – our very own recap series of the topics and trends impacting teens and tweens today dedicated to keeping the common parent in the know.
📮 In today's Issue, we cover a topic that can be stressful for parents and teens alike:
Disclaimer: The Common Parent does not provide medical advice. We always recommend consulting your physician when it comes to any medical treatment plans for your child.
🚩 What is it?
Acne is a skin condition that occurs when hair follicles get clogged with oil and dead skin cells. Acne is most common in teenagers and young adults because puberty hormones stimulate oil glands in the skin. Acne can also be a hereditary trait passed along through genes.
Acne symptoms can range from uninflamed blackheads to pus-filled pimples or large, red, and tender bumps. Acne occurs in both sexes, although teenage boys tend to have the most severe cases.
Developments and philosophies in acne treatments are quite extensive, so for today’s Issue, let’s talk about common acne prescriptions:
  • 🧴 Topical Retinoid Gel or Cream - a step up from over-the-counter creams that require a prescription from a dermatologist or doctor. Topical retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that unclog oil ducts to help prevent cysts and nodules. Typically applied once or twice a day.
  • 🧴💊 Topical and Oral Antibiotics - occasional doses of antibiotics can help to eliminate inflammatory acne. They can come in topical creams or gels that you apply for a certain number of days or they can be taken orally.
  • 💊  Isotretinoin (formerly “Accutane”) - a derivative of vitamin A and a much stronger type of retinoid that comes in pill form used to treat severe acne that has not responded to other treatments. It is a very potent and controversial medication that comes with serious side effects and risks you should be aware of.
  • ♀️**Another option for females is oral contraceptives - Birth control pills have been used to treat acne in those born female at birth for decades. The pills contain the hormones estrogen and progesterone which reduce functional androgen levels, thereby reducing sebum production and acne.

🚨 Why does it matter?
Over 85% of teens will experience acne in some form between the ages of 12-15 with some starting as young as 9 or 10. Not only can acne’s appearance itself impact your teen’s confidence, but there are symptoms, side effects and mental health implications associated with common acne prescriptions that parents should be aware of.
🥵 Acne Itself: Mental Health
In research studies, people with acne have said that their skin makes them feel unattractive, embarrassed or self-conscious. These feelings can cause some teens to avoid trying out for sports, getting a part-time job or participating in class and can even lead to depression and psychological issues.
“Dermatologists should keep the mental health of their patients in mind when they come in for acne problems,” said Dr. Steven Feldman, a Dermatology professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
🩺 Acne Prescriptions: Side Effects & Mental Health Implications
Side Effects of Prescription Isotretinoin (Accutane) 💊:
Prescribing Isotretinoin to teens is a rather controversial topic because it has been linked to some serious mental and physical health problems. It is a heavy-duty medication with some potentially serious side effects, so before prescribing Isotretinoin to a teenager, a doctor will typically evaluate the severity of the acne as well as the teenager's medical history and any previous acne treatments. Parents and doctors should regularly monitor the teen while taking the medication and be on the lookout for both mental and physical side effects.
  • Mental / Emotional: depression; suicidal thoughts; mood swings & changes.
  • Physical: irritable bowel syndrome; erectile dysfunction; dry mouth, lips, skin and eyes; nosebleeds; joint & back pain; and birth defects in pregnancies.
Side Effects of Acne Retinoids🧴: chapping, burning, itching, stinging, scaling, or redness of the skin; dry and peeling skin; darkening / lightening of the skin; headaches; nosebleeds; general pains; and sensitivity to the sun. Must not be taken during pregnancy.
Side Effects of Acne Antibiotics🧴💊: dry, flaky, or peeling skin; tingly or irritated skin; skin redness; nausea; fatigue; dizziness; upset stomach; vomiting; photosensitivity; lightheadedness; and increased sensitivity to the sun.

🎒 The Cap
It is important as parents to recognize that even a mild case of acne can impact your child's mental health and not to undermine their request to be put on medication or prescribed treatment for acne.
Here are some suggestions to keep in mind when that time comes:
  • Ask your child: if they want to seek treatment rather than assuming one way or another.
  • Seek expert help: Pediatricians, adolescent medicine specialists and dermatologists can all treat teen acne and guide you in a treatment plan based on your preferences.
  • Make informed treatment decisions: Not every teen or tween will have the same outcome and no one treatment is right for every person. Work with your teen and their doctor to explore what treatment options are best for them.
  • Establish a treatment regimen and help them stick to it:
    • 💧 Hydrated skin
    • 🧽 Clean Skin
    • ✔️ Correct and consistent application/dosage of their acne medicine
  • Monitor them during treatment: Watch for signs of mental & physical side effects.
  • Be encouraging and patient with them. Remind them that acne is very common and perhaps relate to them with your own experience with acne.
  • Don’t let them fall for “quick fix” methods & myths.

☀️ The good news
Acne is largely treatable and there are more treatment options available.
Acne is treatable and like anything worth waiting for, it will require some time and patience in creating a treatment plan that works for your child. Advancements in topical formulas and oral treatments have meant more options for kids and their parents to explore before moving on to more serious prescriptions with more side effects. Natural and holistic approaches also exist in the acne treatment space. For example, following a nutrient-dense diet, cutting out dairy, and limiting added sugars are suggested as evidence-based practices that may improve acne symptoms.
Your teen is not alone and there is more support available for teens struggling with acne.
Acne can feel very isolating and can impact a teen’s self-confidence, but there are many online support groups for teens with acne. A simple google search can provide options both near and far for your teen (and even you) to find an online community of support to lean on throughout their experience with acne.
Sources on acne prescriptions:

Founders of The Common Parent: Catherine Belknap and Natalie Telfer (Cat & Nat)
The Cap Contributors: 
Catherine Belknap, Natalie Telfer, Kelly Kresen, Cath Tassie, Lauren Bechard, Sam Phelan and Allie Coughlin
Special Thanks to Dr. Bleiker

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The contents of The Cap and The Common Parent platforms ("Content") are for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, therapy, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your situation.